[Warning: The below contains MAJOR spoilers for NCIS Season 19 Episode 4 “Great Wide Open.”]
In “Great Wide Open,” Gibbs (Harmon) and McGee (Sean Murray) head to Alaska as part of the investigation into the company that hired hitman Paul Lemere (Jason Wiles), Sonova, to take out anyone who could block them building a copper mine. With their work there and the others on the case back home, they find proof that Sonova’s CEO Sonia Eberhart (Valarie Pettiford) is behind it, working with the husband of one of the victims (he was in it for the money). But to McGee’s surprise, Gibbs drops a bombshell on him as he readies to head home: He’s not going with him. He does’t want his badge back. Gibbs stays in Alaska! Mark Harmon just left NCIS!
“As an executive producer and dear friend, Mark continues to be an integral part of the fabric of the show,” executive producer and showrunner Steven D. Binder said in a statement. “Our north star has always been staying true to our characters, and that truth has always guided the stories we tell and where those characters go. So regarding the future of Gibbs, as long-time fans of the show may have noticed over the years…never count Leroy Jethro Gibbs out.”
Gibbs’ exit is foreshadowed pretty much from the first scene of the episode. When FBI Special Agent Parker (Gary Cole) leads a team into Gibbs’ house to arrest him (for stealing a government vehicle and kidnapping a suspect who later died under mysterious circumstances), he sees the giant hole in a wall in the basement. “Something tells me he’s not coming back,” he says. (Parker later listens to McGee’s pleas to not arrest Gibbs and is fired for his actions since his boss wanted the suspended agent to pay for his actions. How soon before he gets an NCIS badge?)
“Great Wide Open” then plays like a farewell tour for Gibbs, all with a through-line: He is not OK, and he hasn’t been since he lost his wife and daughter. It even comes up when he speaks with one of the victims’ fathers. “The pain never leaves your heart, but neither will she,” Gibbs says. How does he get through the day? “Some days I don’t,” Gibbs admits.
While he is already in Alaska when the episode begins, flashbacks show him saying goodbye to the others (though we wish Brian Dietzen’s Palmer and Diona Reasonover’s Kasie got moments, too). “It had a good run,” Vance (Rocky Carroll) says after Gibbs puts his phone in coffee so Parker can’t track it. (So did he.) “I wanted to say thank you, Leon, for everything,” Gibbs tells his former boss before walking away.
Ducky (David McCallum) finds him on his away to the airport and notes just how much he’s endured in the last six months (Jack and Bishop leaving, the assault, arrest and suspension, and his boat blowing up). “Milestone events such as these stack up on each other and build internal pressure,” he explains. “It happens to anyone, even you.” And while he’d like to hear Gibbs tell him “there’s nothing to worry about, Duck,” neither believes it.
“You’re right. Lately, I’ve been searching,” Gibbs confesses. “I don’t know what I’m looking for. I know being alone without the job, that was hard.” But coming back is “even harder.” Before he leaves, he makes sure Ducky knows, “you are a great friend. I appreciate you more than you know.” It’s rightfully the most emotional scene of the episode, given the characters’ long history.
He then has Torres (Wilmer Valderrama) drive him to the airport, and after laughing about how Gibbs got his boat out of the basement (and some of the theories), the conversation turns to how both are doing. “I’m doing good,” Torres says, before amending to, “I’m getting by. Some days are better than others. I’ll be fine.” Gibbs has some advice for him: “You are a hell of an agent, Nick. Got instincts that don’t come along often. More often, you are a good man. Do me a favor, though. Don’t let this job become all that there is. You take care of you.”
And so it ends with Gibbs and the agent he’s watched grow from a probie to senior field agent to team leader. “You’re getting there. You just gotta find your rhythm,” Gibbs tells McGee, and he’s clearly talking about more than the fishing they’re doing in Alaska. “Be patient. It’s about progress, not perfection. Once you know the basics, the rest just comes from inside.”
It’s not until McGee’s loaded his bags on the plane that Gibbs tells him he’s not going home. He’s “never been better,” he says, and he doesn’t have another boat left to build. (He did see one at the docks earlier that clearly needs a lot of work done.) “We’ll find you another hobby,” McGee says, obviously not ready to say goodbye. “I’m not looking for a hobby,” Gibbs tells him.
So what is he looking for? “My gut’s telling me I’ll know when I find it,” Gibbs says, and while he doesn’t know if he’ll find it there in Alaska, “whatever I’m feeling, this sense of peace, I have not had this since Shannon and Kelly died, and I’m not ready to let it go.”
And so comes time for the second most emotional goodbye, with McGee teary-eyed and Gibbs looking like he has found that peace he mentions. “I could not have hoped for anyone better to watch my back for the past 18 years than you, Tim,” Gibbs says. After a hug and “I love yous,” McGee makes Gibbs promise him he’s going to be OK. “I already am,” Gibbs says, and with that, McGee leaves.
And NCIS says goodbye to Mark Harmon and Gibbs — for now, we hope. It’s hard to imagine the series ending (whenever it does) without him returning. And to be honest, we’re not quite sure how we feel right now. But how do you feel? Let us know in the comments below.
NCIS, Mondays, 9/8c, CBS